6 things to watch for in the XFINITY Series in 2016

With the NASCAR XFINITY Series season set to get under way with the running of Saturday's PowerShares QQQ 300 at Daytona International Speedway (FS1, 3 p.m. ET), here are six things to watch for in 2016:

1. The new XFINITY Series Chase

For the first time, the XFINITY Series will use a playoff to crown its champion. As announced last month, the seven-race XFINITY Series Chase will begin at Kentucky Speedway on Sept. 24, and feature 12 drivers and two elimination rounds, with four drivers competing in the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

A win in the first 26 races all but guarantees a driver entry into the XFINITY Series Chase, provided the driver is in the top 30 in points and has attempted to qualify for each race. Drivers who win two Dash 4 Cash bonuses are also all but guaranteed a Chase berth.

The first round, called the Round of 12, consists of the races at Kentucky, Dover and Charlotte. All drivers will start with their points adjusted to 2,000, with three additional bonus points added to their total for each win in the first 26 races. If a driver wins a race in the Round of 12, the driver automatically advances to the next round. The remaining available positions (1-8) that have not been filled by wins will be filled on points.

Each driver who advances to the Round of 8 (Kansas, Texas, Phoenix) then will have their points reset to 3,000. Drivers who win a race in the Round of 8 automatically advance to the Championship 4. The remaining available positions (1-4) that have not been filled by wins will be filled on points.

The four drivers who advance to the Championship 4 at Homestead will have their points reset to 4,000. The highest finishing Championship 4 driver will be the champion.

2. Dash 4 Cash changes

This year's XFINITY Series Dash 4 Cash will be comprised of Two Heats and a Main at four tracks: Bristol Motor Speedway (April 16), Richmond International Raceway (April 23), Dover International Speedway (May 14) and Indianapolis Motor Speedway (July 23).

Qualifying for each Dash 4 Cash event will set the 40-car field and the starting positions for the Two Heats with the fastest qualifier awarded the Coors Light Pole Award. Odd-numbered qualifiers (1st, 3rd, 5th, etc.) will start in the first Heat in respective order, while even-numbered qualifiers (2nd, 4th, 6th, etc.) will start the second Heat in respective order.

The Two Heats will set the starting positions for the Main with the top two XFINITY regulars in each Heat becoming eligible for the Dash 4 Cash bonus. The highest finishing driver among the four Dash 4 Cash eligible drivers will be awarded a $100,000 bonus. If any driver wins two of the four Dash 4 Cash bonuses available, that driver is all but guaranteed a spot in the 2016 XFINITY Series Chase. In short, two Dash 4 Cash bonuses are equivalent to one race win in the new NASCAR XFINITY Series Chase format.

Drivers must have declared to earn XFINITY Series points in order to be eligible for the XFINITY Series Dash 4 Cash bonus.

3. Erik Jones going full time

After claiming the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title last season for Kyle Busch Motorsports, Erik Jones will run the full XFINITY Series schedule for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Jones, a 19-year-old Michigan native and JGR development driver, is driving the No. 20 JGR Toyota with crew chief Chris Gabehart calling the shots.

Jones is no stranger to the XFINITY Series, having made 26 starts and capturing two XFINITY wins over the past two seasons.

4. JRM's revised roster

JR Motorsports has a new cast of full-time drivers. Gone are Regan Smith and Chase Elliott, the latter of whom was last year's championship runner-up and the 2014 series champion. XFINITY veteran Elliott Sadler, also a former Sprint Cup Series driver, is now in a No. 1 JR Motorsports Chevrolet.

Returning to the series after a time in Sprint Cup is Justin Allgaier, who is driving Smith's old No. 7 Chevy for the company co-owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Allgaier made the most recent of his 174 XFINITY starts in 2013, driving for car owner Steve Turner.

5. A new champion

Chris Buescher, last year's unheralded XFINITY Series champion, has joined the Sprint Cup Series full time to compete with Front Row Motorsports in partnership with Roush Fenway Racing.

That means no matter what happens in the XFINITY Series this year, there won't be a repeat champ.

6. The rookie class

There are four XFINITY drivers entered as Sunoco Rookies for 2016: Brandon Jones (Richard Childress Racing), Brennan Poole (Chip Ganassi Racing), Ryan Preece (JD Motorsports) and Erik Jones (Joe Gibbs Racing).

Jones is from Atlanta, Georgia and turned 19 on Feb. 18. He has one top five and two top 10s in five career XFINITY Series starts.

Poole, from The Woodlands, Texas, is 24 years old. Poole made 17 XFINITY Series starts last season, logging two top 10s.

Preece is a graduate of the NASCAR Next program. He hails from Berlin, Connecticut, and is 25 years old. Preece made three XFINITY Series starts from 2013 and 2014.

Jones, a NASCAR Next alumnus, is -- as already noted -- the reigning Camping World Truck Series champion.